Dream vs. Reality: Fat-Biking

Is it fat enough?

It’s easy to imagine the allure of winter fat-biking: keep the pedals turning, even after snow takes hold for the season. Go out and get some hard-earned cardio; satisfy the fix that only a day in the saddle can give you. In winter, the woods are calm and solitary—just you and the birds. Instead of waiting months for your next opportunity to ride singletrack, resigning your steed to collect dust in the garage, you can now hit the trails year-round. But is fat-biking fun, or just a fad? Could this snowy dream actually transpire into reality? Let’s see how fat-biking shakes out.

Winter arrives suddenly and catches you a bit off-guard. The crisp autumn days seemed to have just begun, and you’re not ready to give up time in the saddle yet. Lucky for you, a buddy offers up his fat-bike to try for the season. It has all the bells and whistles, including panniers to hold all your extra layers. You load up the rig and head to Crosscut for a test run. It’s cold starting out, but you’ve layered accordingly and within minutes you’re perfectly warm. Sun sparkles through the trees and glistens off the fresh snow, which you find to be firm but grippy—delightful! Before long, you’re drifting around corners, spraying snow, and even catching some air. It’s new and exciting, and somehow you feel like a complete natural at it. As you approach a skate skier, you slow down to pass. Lifting two fingers from the handlebars, you lend a Montana wave and he returns the salute. “Man, that looks awesome!” he exclaims. It sure is awesome. It may be the best choice you’ve made all winter.

You’re tired of vying for elbow room on the overcrowded slopes at Bridger and Big Sky. This is the year to branch out and try something different. You’ve heard fat-biking is a great winter alternative to skiing, so you dive in headfirst. Cha-ching goes the cash register as you put a down-payment on a brand-new set of wheels. “Don’t forget insulated bike shoes, pogies, riding jackets, pants, and a plus-sized helmet to fit over your hat,” says the technician. Heeding his advice, you take out a loan and complete the purchase. Now you’re ready to go. You head up Sourdough to get a feel for the bike, but before you even leave the parking lot, you’re lambasted by a group of skiers for destroying the trail. As you struggle up the initial pitch, you realize they’re not wrong. You can’t even keep the thing in a straight line, much less enjoy yourself. Your face goes numb and sweat from your forehead freezes your eyes shut. Half-blind, you turn around and attempt the descent at an exhilarating 3mph. A snowshoer passes by as you errantly ride off the trail and tumble over the handlebars. “Man, that looks terrible,” she says. It is terrible. It’s the worst decision you’ve made all winter.